If you’re planning a trip to come to Europe, creating a travel schedule can be quite a daunting task. Especially in Italy, a country filled with museums, monuments, cathedrals, and breathtaking architecture at every street corner. Thankfully for me, my trip to Italy was carefully planned out day by day, including all the minuscule important interlacing details. My sweet Italian family meticulously created a secret itinerary for each day I’ll be staying in Italy. What makes it all so thrilling is that I never know what I’ll be doing the next day, and each day is like a special surprise! This feeling of curiosity causes my anticipation to grow more and more as we drive to unknown destinations to experience new things, try new foods, or visit new cities. Just a few nights ago I was told to, “pack a backpack with clothes for a few days, make sure to bring sneakers, and be ready to leave at 7 am tomorrow”. Immediately, multitudes of questions and thoughts filled my head as I wondered, “where could we possibly be going?, why sneakers? …maybe lots of walking?, is it far away? is it another city?” Little did I know, the next morning I’d be boarding a train with Diego with our pre-purchased (they’re so sneaky) tickets to FLORENCE!! As I sat in the comfy train seat and stared out the window as we passed what seemed like never-ending fields and farmlands, the train stopped and we got off in a city about 3 hours away from Milan (I was still unsure as to where we were). After about 5 minutes of walking around the train station, looking for any possible sign to tell me where I was, Diego finally told me that we were in Florence! I couldn’t believe it!! In just a few short hours by train, we’d arrived in an Italian city I’d only seen in my dreams…and a place I’ve always longed to visit. I hope our itinerary, and my top favorite things to do, eat, and see, inspire you to come spend a few days in the gorgeous city of Florence! Don’t worry if you can’t cram it all into just a few days, because whether you know it or not, you’ll be back…I already want to go back!
One of my number one tips, buy the Firenze card! It gets you admission into every museum, cathedral, and church, for 72 hours. The most important detail of the Firenze card, is that it works like a “fast-pass”, to bypass waiting for hours under the blistering sun, among thousands of other sweaty tourists. This card quickly became my best friend as it saved us from uncountable long lines at many museums including a line for the Duomo that wrapped back-and-forth around the entire cathedral. I felt as if my Firenze card was magically transformed into a princess crown as we were ushered directly to the front of countless lines, where it seemed like people had been waiting for hours.I can’t imagine how much extra time we would have needed in Florence to see and do everything we were able to without using the Firenze card.
1. Duomo-Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
Ok, this one might seem a bit obvious, considering it is hands-down, the iconic architectural symbol for Florence. This massive domed cathedral was designed by Brunelleschi over 600 years ago. I found this cathedral to be completely mesmerizing, with all it’s intricacy and how beautifully it’s built. I took pictures of it from the outside, inside, from the top of the dome, from other towers overlooking the cathedral, during the day, and even more pictures at night. Don’t worry, I’m only adding a couple photos here, as the pictures don’t even do it justice. I’d recommend climbing to the top dome of the Duomo, if your schedule permits, for a stunning view of all of Florence. 463 steps later, we reached the top of the dome and sat on the steps overlooking the impressive view.
2. Palazzo Vecchio
This grandiose palace was once home to the Medici family, and currently functions as Florence’s town hall and a precious museum. Time travel becomes possible as you step foot into Palazzo Vecchio, and journey back into history 3 eras. The original construction of this palace began in 1299, and is attributed to the architect, Arnolfo di Cambio. Throughout history this palace has undergone many changes and been referred to in several ways including: Palazzo dei Priori, Palazzo della Signoria, and Palazzo Vecchio. 23 years after it’s original construction, the building was deemed complete as a large bell was hoisted into it’s impressive bell tower. The later architectural adjustments in the 16th century can be seen in the rear of the palace, while the massive design of the front of the palace and tower remain the same. A monumental set of stairs take you up into the palace’s most well-known room, the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred). The interior of this Palace has intricately decorated rooms, baroque ceilings, rich wall tapestries, carved doors, and striking artwork by da Vinci and Michelangelo. No visit to Palazzo Vecchio is complete without the trek up it’s towering bell tower. Your legs might be tired after the 414 steps to the top, but you’ll thank me after seeing the stunning view!
3. Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio, (“old bridge” in Italian), is one of the city’s most distinguished landmarks, and unquestionably the most famous bridge in Florence. The bridge was originally built for the Medici family as a safe passageway for traveling between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti. Beneath this secret passageway, jewelers and goldsmiths have their shops situated beautifully along this ancient cobblestone bridge. I’m almost positive I took like 200 pictures solely of the Ponte Vecchio, with all it’s little shops, flowered balconies, and delicate jewels. Later in the day we strolled along Ponte Vecchio to admire it’s beauty by night…and for more pictures of course!
The moment you first take a bite of authentic Italian pizza is literally life-changing, I’m not even exaggerating. The taste is completely different from any “Italian” pizza we have in the US. Since it’d be incredibly difficult to explain the way the rich flavors of all the delectable ingredients combine with the savory taste of pure Italian tomato sauce, you’ll just have to come here to try it yourself. The pizzeria we ate at is called Pizzeria O’Vesuvio Firenze, famous for it’s authentic Naples-style pizza and ingredients. http://www.ovesuviofirenze.com/en/
It was a bit overwhelming for my taste buds to experience so much Italian deliciousness crammed into the same day. For dinner we ate spaghetti at an elegant Italian restaurant. Our table was on the rear terrace, surrounded by twinkling lights, hanging lanterns, tiled walls, and candle lit tables. My spaghetti was unlike anything I’d ever eaten before, and almost immediately became one of my favorite foods I’ve eaten since coming to Europe. So many exquisite flavors all in one bite…I quickly dove my fork back into my bowl for another bite of creamy spaghetti. Just before it reached my mouth, I was startled to hear, “stop!” Little did I know, Italians have an extremely specific way spaghetti should be eaten, and any other way is strictly unlawful. Spoons and knives should never even be mentioned while devouring your spaghetti. Which fork you use is also exceedingly important matter for Italians. To avoid looking like a foreigner, it’d be a good idea to learn how to eat pasta like a true Italian.
According to the New York Time’s article titled, THE SPOON QUESTION, OR HOW TO EAT PASTA LIKE AN EXPERT, “Spoons are for children, amateurs and people with bad table manners in general.” They even provide a suggested technique that must be used in order to prevent looking like an amateur: “Put the fork into a few strands of spaghetti; let the tines of the fork rest against the curve of the bowl or the curved indentation of the plate, while twirling the fork around and giving it brief quick lifts to prevent too much pasta from accumulating. When one discrete mass of pasta can be lifted, hoist away.” Once you’ve mastered the technique of eating pasta like the locals, you can avoid looking like an American barbarian on your future travels to Italy. After Diego gave me a lesson on how to eat my spaghetti like an Italian would, I began to slowly and carefully eat my delicious spaghetti, one fork twirl at a time.
We couldn’t leave this special dinner without having dessert! We ordered 2 tiramisu’s, and they came in the cutest little glass jar. This little Italian combination of cocoa and expresso was the perfect treat to end our beautiful first day spent in Florence.
6. Uffizi Gallery
A visit to this museum is an absolute must for everyone, at least once in your life as you’ll have the opportunity to admire some of the most famous European paintings in the world. The permanent collection in the museum consists of works by famous artists including Giotto, Botticelli, da Vinci, and Michelangelo. The Uffizi is a massive and exhausting museum with thousands of paintings and sculptures, I’d recommend coming prepared with a plan of attack (a list of which paintings and sculptures are most important to visit). Museums in Italy seem to have the ability to cause a severe case of “museum-coma”, as you attempt to digest some of the most stunning and overwhelming pieces of artwork in the world. We decided to take a few pit stops on the benches located in the main Uffizi halls, as we sat to clear our heads and people-watch all the crazy tourists. One of the most popular and breathtaking paintings in the Uffizi is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. His painting depicts Venus, the goddess of love, riding on a shell that has just been blown to shore by a strong gust of wind.
7. Galleria dell’Accademia: David
Michelangelo’s 500 year old sculpture of David is definitely something that you HAVE TO see when in Florence. David is unquestionably the most handsome and loved man in all of Florence. The enormous size of Michelangelo’s sculpture is something that shocked me, as I had always imagined David being more “life-size”. However, David stands 17 feet tall, and is approximately 3 times the size of an average person. The cliche, “one man’s trash another man’s treasure proves true with the story behind Michelangelo’s creation. The 6 ton block of marble that was used for his masterpiece, had previously been discarded by other sculptors who decided “it was too much of a pain to work with”. Standing before the massive sculpture is truly an unforgettable experience and something that needs to be added to every Florence itinerary.
8. Giardino de Boboli
One step away from the loud, busy streets of Florence, you enter the peaceful isolated paradise of Palazzo Pitti. The Boboli Gardens (located behind the palace) have been referred to as the city’s “green lungs”, and embrace a completely different aspect of Florence’s culture. Its colossal oak trees, fountains, and sculptures offer a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
9. Have a walk through Florence by night
As beautiful as all the sculptures and monuments are by day, in my opinion, they’re far more impressive when lit up against the black night sky. While seeing the Duomo by day is a wonderful experience, visiting it by night is absolutely astonishing. With no lines, no sweaty tourists, you’ll get to experience a beautifully quiet view of some of the world’s masterpieces.
It’d be a crime to post a day spent wandering the streets of Florence without a stop for gelato, especially after all those towers we climbed. You can find a gelateria on almost every street corner throughout Florence, but it’s important not to let the towering colorful heaps of icy gelato fool you. There is such a thing as “bad gelato”, I know, crazy right?? Some gelaterias add extra coloring and the gelato doesn’t have the same creamy taste like it should. A few of Florence’s most popular gelaterias are Grom and Vivoli, which are both ridiculously busy at all hours of the day. Why are people lined out the door and down the sidewalk when theres another gelateria next door with zero line?? I’d say it’s worth it to wait in the line and see what you’re missing out on 😉
So far my time in Italy has been amazing!! Everyday is packed full of new adventures, new experiences, new foods, and special memories that I’ll cherish forever. Thanks for staying updated on my travels and keep your eyes out for my next post about another gorgeous Italian city!